Saturday, 10 February 2007

Executioner had no training

Executioner had no training

Herald Staff Writer

The lead executioner of a convicted killer who took twice the normal time to die never received any medical training, the executioner told a panel reviewing Florida's lethal injection procedures Friday.

"I have no medical training and no qualifications," the executioner said.

The executioner testified by phone and answered questions with what sounded like a muffled male voice to guard his identity.

The executioner last received lethal injection training about seven years ago when Florida introduced lethal injections as an alternative to the electric chair.

Also testifying by phone with what sounded like a muffled female voice was a member of the medical team who inserted needles into each of Angel Nieves Diaz's arms.

Doctors later concluded the needles had been pushed incorrectly through his veins into soft tissue, delaying the flow of chemicals into his bloodstream. An autopsy found chemical burns in both his arms.

"I have practiced in a clinical setting for over 10 years," said the unidentified medical professional, who completed at least five executions. "I've had an opportunity to place intravenous lines in a wide range of inmate populations for the last 10 years and more."

The medical professional's responsibility was to establish one intravenous line in each arm.

After being unsuccessful in the first attempt to advance the catheter into Diaz's right arm, the medical professional testified that the catheter was inserted higher up the arm.

The left arm required only one attempt, the medical professional said.

Dr. Peter Springer, one of three doctors on the 11-person panel, said that if lethal injections continue in the state, medical professionals should be involved.

"If lethal injections proceed, I think one of the recommendations the panel may put forward is that medically competent individuals become part of the process," said Springer, a Volusia County Emergency Medical Services director. "But therein lies some of the ethical and moral questions that are going to come up."

The American Medical Association guidelines bar doctors from taking part, directly or indirectly, in executions.

The lead executioner testified to serving during multiple executions, including that of Diaz, whose execution Dec. 13 took 34 minutes and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals.

"It doesn't surprise me that the executioner had no medical training," said Dr. Steve Morris, project director at University of South Florida's College of Nursing and a panel member. "Executions are not medical procedures."

More training is needed and it needs to be done more frequently, Morris said, but added that any programs should be introduced by the Department of Corrections.

All members of the execution team and independent observers of the execution maintained Friday that Diaz did not suffer any pain, but acknowledged that no Spanish-speaking officials were present.

Diaz's niece, Sol Otero, told the panel that Diaz informed his family that he was taunted by guards for weeks before the execution.

"We of course could not control the pain we were feeling (the day of the execution)," Otero said. "Especially while seeing some guards and wardens smiling and laughing and enjoying what was going on. It seemed like a day of celebration or a festive event for those working at the prison that day."

Shortly after the execution the Department of Corrections said Diaz suffered from liver disease and was unable to quickly metabolize the deadly cocktail.

But Diaz's poor liver function was not a factor in the delayed execution, Dr. Nicholas Gravenstein, an anesthesiologist testified Friday.

Diaz, 55, a career criminal, was sentenced to death for killing a Miami topless bar manager 27 years ago. He had proclaimed his innocence until his execution.

More members of the execution team are expected to testify Monday.

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